Are Welsh speakers unwelcoming?

"Are you local?"

“Are you local?”

Have you heard the one about the English tourist entering a Welsh pub, only for the unwelcoming locals to switch immediately from English to the native gibberish, presumably for the sole purpose of excluding the newcomer?

You may even be convinced that you have experienced something similar yourself. It is, however, an urban myth with unpleasant implications. Not only does it not happen, it wouldn’t make sense even if it ever did. The people who are speaking Welsh after the stranger came in were already doing so long beforehand.

Obviously, if you consider yourself a victim of this alleged phenomenon, you might not be too impressed with what you’ve just read. Please be assured, however, that the intention here is not to call you a liar. It is, rather, an attempt to rectify a misunderstanding. Quite a few things could have happened to cause the wrong impression and give rise to this strange piece of apocrypha.

Listen carefully

Casual spoken Welsh often includes a lot of English borrowings, even when perfectly fine Welsh words are available. Catching a string of these may lead the listener to assume they’re hearing English initially. This could well be amplified by the fact that it can take our senses a few seconds to attune to new surroundings. Upon entering such a room, our ears scan quickly (perhaps desperately) for familiar sounds amongst the hubbub. For an English-speaker, this obviously means English (or English-sounding) words. We can now see how they could catch one or two of those familiar sounds at first, and then, once the senses settle and enable them to listen more carefully, realise that they no longer understand anything. It’s possible to imagine how they may conclude that a complete and deliberate language switch has occurred. It hasn’t.

To confuse things further, it’s common for groups of friends to consist of both Welsh- and English-speakers, and in such cases it’s only natural that the language spoken switches back and forth constantly, depending on whom is speaking to whom. Bear in mind that such a group need only consist of one English-speaker for this to be true. My friends and I are probably fine examples of this phenomenon, since my wife is English; she can understand a fair amount of Welsh but she’s not (yet) fluent. This is an example of a well-known phenomenon known as code-switching and it, too, could lead a stranger (albeit, perhaps, a rather self-centred one!) to conclude that they are the reason for any change they may have heard.

Paranormal powers?

If you still think that these possible explanations seem rather implausible, consider what would need to be true in order for the pub story really to be correct. Is it possible, for example, that the language could have survived so well in the first place were it used only so sparingly? Use it or lose it, as they say. The myth is all the more incoherent when you consider that the type of unwelcoming Welshie who’s presumably at fault has to be one of those insular nationalists who’s supposed to be so hostile to all things English. The obvious question: why would they, of all people, use the (apparently) hated language of the evil conqueror in the first place?

Note also that the visitor in the story claims to be able to tell, with confidence, what language was being spoken long before they even entered the premises. This must mean that they possess paranormal powers, in which case they should be too busy getting rich on television to waste time propagating unpleasant urban legends on the internet. It also works the other way, of course: how precisely are the locals, assuming that they even noticed the grand entrance, supposed to know that the newcomer in their midst is bereft of Welsh? Was he wearing a big fluorescent “English Only” badge?

Perhaps the assumption here is that there are so few Welsh-speakers that we all know each other personally, and so we can readily identify an “outsider”. While it’s true that the classic six-degrees-of-separation game is probably more like two-or-three-degrees in Welsh-speaking Wales, by no stretch of the imagination does that mean that we all know each other directly. There are over half a million of us, after all. Were we really trying to scare off English-speakers, we would need quite a bit more to go on than a mere face.

Note also that this myth assumes an automatic right to eavesdrop. This probably ties in with another similar complaint about Welsh, namely that it is impolite to speak it in the presence of people who don’t understand it. This one at least is not a myth, in the sense that, well, it does happen. It isn’t actually rude either (in the vast majority of circumstances at least), but that’s a matter for a separate article.

False impressions

It’s important to note the malicious assumptions underpinning this whole silly story. It must be emphasised immediately that these assumptions are not necessarily harboured by everyone who repeats it. Many are simply duped. Nevertheless, the story has a lot of mendacious implications and it will be helpful to dissect them to understand why some people appear so eager to spread it. It seeks to create the false impression that Welsh isn’t really a normal medium of everyday life (it is) and that we all just “use English anyway” when no one else is around. Perhaps it just shows a refusal or an inability to believe that there are parts of the British mainland, much less than a hundred miles from the border (and in some places less than twenty) where the community language isn’t English.

Whatever the reason, its purpose is obviously to undermine the language. It suggests that it is only ever spoken with sneaky ulterior motives, and pretty much tries to turn Welsh as a whole into something sinister. At the same time, it portrays its speakers as rude, suspicious and hostile bigots. We really aren’t. Honest. Well, apart from a handful of idiots, probably, but what cross-section of society doesn’t include its share of those?

Rest assured that Welsh-speakers use Welsh in every aspect of their lives. When they speak it in the pub or wherever they may be, they’re discussing sport, the news, or what they’ve seen on television, or the previous weekend’s drunken antics, or they’re making polite enquiries about the well-being of each other’s families. You get the idea. Normal people discussing normal things, in their normal language. Fomenting distrust of Welsh-speakers is an ancient and divisive political tactic in Wales, and this myth is very much a part of that grim tradition. Please don’t be fooled.

Update (in response to some of the comments BTL):

Thank you for all the comments.

First of all, I note that even the responses that take issue with the article (including John Webb’s) don’t actually address the particular myth in question, namely that everyone in a pub immediately switches from English to Welsh en masse as soon as an outsider enters. That specific story is implausible and incoherent for the reasons I’ve given above, and I made a point of focusing on it precisely because it sets out to undermine the idea of Welsh as a normal community language.

The disagreeing commenters have instead referred to alleged bad experiences more generally, which is a separate matter. Nowhere have I denied that rude Welsh-speakers exist. It would be strange if there weren’t any, given that impolite or obnoxious people exist in all segments of society. Welsh-speaking Wales is no different, nor could we expect it to be so.

The anecdotes about bad-mannered Welsh-speakers are revealing in themselves, to be honest, but not in the way you might think. I cringe when I hear such stories, because they reflect badly on everyone who speaks Welsh. But that’s the point: why on earth should they reflect on all of us? I’ve met unpleasant English-speakers at times but it’s never occurred to me to extrapolate from that and suggest that unpleasantness is somehow an English trait. The reason for this is obvious: it would be a really weird and unreasonable thing to do. In the same way, there should be absolutely no reason for me to wince with embarrassment when I hear of somebody having an uncomfortable experience with a Welsh-speaker. I can’t help myself, however, because I’ve been conditioned by the wider society to accept that minorities (like Welsh-speakers) must satisfy higher standards. In our case, the actions of a small few must indeed reflect on all of us. The lucky English-speaking majority need not worry about a handful of impertinent exceptions letting the entire side down and resulting in existential peril to the group itself.

To answer some of John Webb’s comments directly, I’ve been going “incognito” with an English person in Gwynedd almost every day for a good few years now. As I said in the article, my wife is from England. We live in Caernarfon, a stronghold of the language, but since she’s not fluent we speak to each other in English. She’s never had any experiences like the ones you mention. Indeed she has said that, if anything, Welsh-speakers are sometimes too ready to switch to English in her presence, even if the conversation does not directly involve her. For what it’s worth, she does understand a bit (perhaps a little more than she sometimes lets on!), so when we’re out with friends we end up with a situation like what I described above: the conversation will switch seamlessly from Welsh to English and back again, depending on whether or not anyone is speaking directly to my wife. She can follow the gist of the Welsh bits, and anything she doesn’t catch can be translated. I imagine that this sort of scenario is far more common around the world than monolingual English-speakers realise. In fact, I would propose that there is something rather cosmopolitan about it. Yet it is Welsh-speakers who are so often portrayed as insular and narrow-minded.

I have spent many (many many) hours in several of Gwynedd’s drinking establishments, and I have genuinely never so much as heard a hint of the sort of thing that you describe (although admittedly my powers of comprehension start to diminish after my eighth Guinness). Naturally, I must accept that somebody who speaks Welsh is occasionally insulting towards somebody from England; it would be rather astonishing if it never happened. I tend to be on the look-out for such things, precisely because I’m so aware that as a group we need to be collectively near-perfect in order to avoid bad press, but if it occurs it never seems to be when I’m around.

Rude, occasionally? Yeah I guess, unfortunately. Just like every other demographic group. But the thing about a tourist entering a pub where everyone immediately stops speaking English and turns to Welsh out of sheer small-mindedness? I honestly and sincerely do not and cannot believe that it has ever happened. Ever. And that, specifically, is what the piece was about.

Dylan Llŷr

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56 thoughts on “Are Welsh speakers unwelcoming?

  1. I can entirely agree with you’ve written here Dylan – I’ve visited a few non-English speaking countries and can attest to the disorientation when entering a room and not being sure of which language was being spoken because you’ve forgotten you’re somewhere else – I even thought Geordies were speaking French on and off for my first week in Newcastle! I’ve visited Blaenau Ffestiniog a number of times, a very Welsh town with Welsh spoken everywhere quite naturally, as you say. But it doesn’t stop people switching to English when it helps in a shop, or when it’s friendly to in a pub, for example. I have great respect for people who can speak two (or more) languages!

    • There’s an old joke about this. An Englishman visited Wales on a walking holiday. He said hello to people he met but they just shook their heads in annoyance at him. His landlady explained they wanted him to speak Welsh. So the next day he met a man and exclaimed “bore da”. The man agitatedly shook his fist at him and replied “Welsh bastard!”

      • This isn’t a problem of welsh speakers, this is a problem with humans. Whatever language you speak, some people will not hold back from saying something offensive if they don’t think they can be understood.

        Some Welsh speakers do it with English speakers.
        Some English do it with non English speakers
        Some Catalonians do it with Spanish
        Some Danish do it
        Some French do it
        Some Germans do it
        Some Japanese do it
        I think you can see where I’m going with this.

  2. But if you always speak English to a stranger, then what incentive will there every be for them to learn Welsh? Indeed if you’re too ‘polite’ they may never even realise the language exists, at least as a normal spoken medium. There are clear advantages in having a ‘private’ community language, but the danger is that you are bound to lose community members who move away, and if you don’t replace them by ‘converting’ incomers, the way any normal viable community would, then your days are sadly numbered.

  3. I think any sensible person will realize people of a certain cultural and linguisitic community will keep on their business as usual, though for the stranger some help is always welcome. But you cannot really expect to forcibly immerse someone else into any particular linguistic/cultural setting.

    If you care, you care and will try to speak a few words if passing by or ‘convert’ if you be mean to be part or at least paticipate in this community, which is formed by so many other things other than language. If you care you will try to adapt to the language and the culture, but languages are not that easy for everyone, and yes there are also self-absorbed pricks everywhere who just don’t care about these things, but why should we dwell on these ones?

    It is great to keep alive both language and culture, and share it with those who are interested, even if just visitors. I’ve been the other (though not in a welsh-speaking community) and believe me it is a challenge to learn languages (5 and counting), but it is thanks to ppl who take the time to guide you that i’ve been able to really get to know some cultures and make friends.

    As I see it, being the other, involves being respectful and humble. In turn you become a sort of ambassador for a community, even if in a small scale… this is the key to keep culture and languages alive and kicking.

  4. Well said, as an English only speaker (I did try to learn promise) who lived in Wales for twenty five years I got really fed up with trying to debunk this myth.

  5. Oh Dear, rarely have I had the opportunity to read such a biased and condescending article.
    Before I respond, let me give you a brief summary of my Welsh experience; I lived in the heart of Welsh speaking Gwynedd as a postmaster for sixteen years, I do not speak Welsh but my three sons do. Apart from our duties in the Post Office my wife and I were active members of the community and I was elected and served on a Community Council in Gwynedd for several years.
    I believe that Dylan Llŷr is naive to say the least if he thinks that this is an issue about language, the Welsh language and the use of it is just an instrument in what is basically a tribal problem. Of course any outsider coming into another’s territory is going to be anxious and defensive in the short term but I am afraid that my wife and I as well as my Welsh speaking sons were victims for the whole of our sixteen year stay in Wales.
    From the start we were openly accused of taking a Welsh business and job [the Post Office was on the market for over a year]. We were told that we were part of “a tide of immigrants” by Welsh politicians and arrogant if we didn’t learn Welsh within a year.[ This was aimed at the English not the Welsh]. The local policeman even told me that he and his colleagues did not like the English.
    As for saying “….. and this myth is very much a part of that grim tradition” when referring to the language is also not true. My family and I were in at a cafe in Dolgellau where most of the conversations were in English for most of the time when one of the staff made a loud and rude comment about us in Welsh to the amusement of most of the customers, not realising that my son could understand. We were not eavesdropping but being blatantly insulted. So that it’s not “.. just a silly story” and to those on the receiving end it can be something sinister.
    I believe that the Welsh language is being used as a tool to advocate discrimination not towards the Welsh that do not speak it, but towards incomers that are predominately English, it is not a figment of my imagination as was implied in the second paragraph of the article. I have experienced it as a councillor in dealings with Gwynedd Council, in my dealings with the police in Wales and in my position as a Post Master.
    Perhaps Dylan Llŷr might go incognito in the company of some English to deal with a problem and then go separately as a Welsh-speaker with a similar problem to see whether or not discrimination by language is ” a piece of apocrypha” or not.

    • I’d like to point out that this is of course just one anecdotal example among many other cases that would prove to the contrary. Much like John’s family, my parents moved here 19 years ago not being able to speak Welsh. They have since learnt Welsh to the best of their abilities, and although my siblings and I speak the language fluently, we obviously speak English together. To anyone that doesn’t know us, we appear to be a solely English-speaking family while out and about.

      I have NEVER experienced what John alludes to here. What I’ve found more common is people reacting with what I can only describe as delight, on learning that we can in fact speak Welsh and that my parents have bothered to learn it. I have never heard muttered comments insulting me or my family nor faced hostility when perceived as non-Welsh speakers. I would also never make such comments myself! In all my years as a Welsh speaker I’ve never even been in the company of anyone making snide comments about nearby strangers who don’t speak Welsh, simply for that fact.

      This isn’t to say that what you’ve experienced, John, isn’t valid. I’d just like to point out that though perhaps present, this sort of behaviour isn’t commonplace. If it were, wouldn’t I – who is in a situation comparable to yours/your children’s – have noticed it too?

    • I’ve been in situations where English people make loud insulting comments about non English speakers. Yes some people are ghastly. I’ve experienced anti southern prejudice in North Wales but only from a handfull of people.
      No one denies that language differences are exploited by bigots. Dylan’s article is pointing out that any problems are from a minority and that bigotry is not a purely Welsh phenomenon as some these storytellers try to imply.

    • The short-term cure for that is to learn the phrase for “I understand Welsh” (or whatever language you think is being used to insult you). The long-term cure is of course to actually learn Welsh.

      In any case, this is not discrimination; it is bad manners. The two are quite different.

  6. My husband came from North Wales, but left to join the army. After many years away he had lost his welsh accent and sounded English, he was however a fluent welsh speaker. We have gone into pubs and have also had comments made about us and family in welsh thinking we wouldn’t understand. There’s nothing more shocking to locals when my husband would reply in welsh and point out that not everyone that sounds English actually are.

      • No. Non Welsh speaking Welsh friends have expetienced it too. But Dylan’s point remains. Why doy you feel you have the right to extrapolate this behaviour to imply that welsh speakers are rude whilst ignoring the fact that Scots English and Irish all do the same thing to foreigners?

    • I have the same experience. Welsh is my first language, but I have lived away from my roots in Gwynedd for many years, My wife is not a Welsh speaker, and on more than one occasion in North, Mid and West Wales, groups of Welsh speakers have made comments about myself or my friends believing us to be English, – some quite inappropriate and offensive. Whilst I do get pleasure in responding in fluent Welsh, I am also saddened that this is a widespread practice. To suggest that it does not happen is either blinkered idealism, ignorance or shame. Rwy’n teimlo’n ddrwg dweud hyn, ond mi ydw i wedi gweld hyn yn digwydd gormod o weithiau.

      • but english speaking yobs do it to foreigners too.Dylan’s point that these stories are used to promote anti Welsh feeling remains. I’m pretty sure some Germans and Greeks have veen insulting to me on holiday judging by body language. I don’t say “they’re all the same”

  7. John – not being funny, but you’ve lived in a Welsh-speaking area for 16 years and “do not speak Welsh”. Am I alone in thinking this is just a bit odd? If you moved to Germany and lived there 16 years don’t you think you might have learned some German? (I’m English BTW and when I go to Wales dwy’n trio siarad Cymraeg, even though my Welsh is diflas.)

    • Steve,
      I was with the majority of people that live in Wales.[ Non-Welsh speaking] I’m not making any derogatory comment on the Welsh or the Welsh language apart from in my opinion the Welsh language is being used as a stick to beat the English with.
      My son and I both vowed never to speak Welsh in public [he has A* in A level Welsh] after we were laughed at when we tried.

      • Cos English people never laugh at foreigners of course? I’ve been openly mockef for calling a saucepan a sospan, and saying over by there.
        If you’re telling the truth you’ve been unfortunate in the people you met. I find it hard to believe your son got an A*A level if no Welsh speaking people ever spoke to him.
        I’ve met some pretty nasty Welsh speakers but they’re a lower percentage compared to the horrid english monoglots i’ve met.

  8. Interesting reading all this. I speak German French Italian and Welsh fluently and have lived and worked in these countries. I always had to bite my tongue when English friends passed comments about foreigners speaking in their languages. Time we grew up, I always speak Welsh when I am in Wales as much as I would speak French in France, Have never heard people talking about me though

  9. I am Welsh born & bred, ( Bangor / Caernarfon ) & lived in england for 20yrs Nottingham / North Devon, I never encountered any discrimination being ” Bi Lingual ” in fact, met many a Welsh person who on the whole did´nt neccisarily speak the language but who was Welsh & proud non the less. There was one incident however on a visit to my home town with my English partner,when we visited the Castle & on walking around the gift shop, I heard the two assistant´s talking across the floor about ” these bloody english ! ” unaware that I could understand every word, ( being a bred cofie,) had I really lost that much of my accent? upon paying for our gifts, I spoke to the tiller ( In Welsh ) and pointed out that I understood every word of the conversation & reminded him that I too was brought up on the same estate as he had! He was speechless ! I personally think that ther´se a lot of discrimination among the Welsh speakers in these towns, but I find that those who are, are so insular and have not travelled, currently I live in Spain and embrace the spanish language ( which has a lot of welsh words ) culture, & general way of spanish life, they automatically think I´m English, until I explain that because I speak fluent english it does´t make me English. Welsh & proud, Cumru am Byth !!!!

      • And that Paul is why so many English speakers give up trying to speak Welsh…being close to pronouncing things correctly isn’t good enough and the derogatory way they are corrected just makes them give up.

      • Ian and john, it’s just the sense of humour. It’s their sense of humour! I am laughed at when making mistakes speaking other languages, and i also laugh at others making mistakes speaking mine, because it’s funny! I find it funny.
        Someone who ‘vows never to speak it again’ because someone laughed at them is perhaps too sensitive.
        Lots of races are accused of being rude by the english, becasue of the english insular lack of understanding of cultural natures.

  10. In my experience as an English immigrant, I have always found that Welsh speakers go out of their way not to make me feel left out, and their ability to switch easily from one language to another fills be with admiration and awe, as does their patience with a really bad Welsh learner such as myself. No doubt there are some Welsh people who make rude comments about the English, but is it suprising, considering the abuse and oppression (Welsh Not, anyone? AA Gill/Jeremy Clarkson/Anne Robinson?) they have suffered at the hands of the English? As an Englishman I often cringe at the sheer conceit of my fellow countrymen – the Welsh language, ‘a stick to beat the English with’?! That’s classic – pure, chip-on-the-shoulder, self-delusion. As the Welsh (non-Welsh speaking) comedian Rhod Gilbert once said: ‘How could they possibly KNOW you’re English when you walk into a pub/cafe/shop wherever? Get over yourselves!’

  11. In a newsagent’s in Jersey I was offered a choice of a single parking permit or a cheaper pack of several and, without thinking, because that is the language we speak together, asked my husband in Welsh which we should buy. When I had relayed the reply to the woman behind the counter, she asked me what language I was speaking and I told her. “Don’t you know” she said “that it’s very rude to speak in a language other people don’t understand?” From the back, her husband shouted, “What is it? Bloody Welsh again”. I would have stopped to reason with her, but my husband flung the permits on the counter and walked out, his whole day ruined. I have to say that I don’t think from their accents that they were Jersey people. I’d love to have known how visitors from France were treated.
    There are good and bad in every nation, but when I’ve met unpleasantly anti-Welsh people I often find that they don’t get on at all well with their English neighbours either, and I don’t doubt the same is true of some prejudiced Welsh people.

    • As you so rightly pointed out there are good and bad in every nation, when someone behaves badly or rudely don’t tarnish the whole nation with the same brush. I have lived many years in Scotland and there are strong feelings against other nationalities here too sometimes, but the majority of people are kind and helpful.
      Regarding another comment about outsider’s taking jobs, most company policies are now supposed to employ the best candidate for the job, after all it is discrimination to rule someone out of a job because they are French/English/Welsh etc.
      Our DNA is largely the same as chimps, there is no difference in the way we behave sometimes either!

  12. Interesting that John Webb claims that the treatment he’s received amounts to ‘language discrimination’. As a Welsh speaker who faces discrimination and obstacles to using my own language on a daily basis, I must say that I have little sympathy with the ‘plight’ of someone who seems to have no empathy with the community he’s moved into. The discrimination faced by Welsh speakers – much of it institutionalised discrimination amongst the British establishment – is highlighted by the regular publication of anti-Welsh language articles in the English press.

    Whilst I don’t doubt that Mr Webb was occasionally on the receiving end of the odd comment of “blydi Sais”, maybe he should realise that this is a reaction to the years of discrimination faced by Welsh speakers at the hands of the British state. The fact that Welsh speakers are generally happy to turn to English to accommodate visitors is a truer reflection of the tolerance shown by most of us. (In fact, that willingness to turn to English could well be part of the reason why Welsh has been declining over the years…)

    Very much like the visitor to the pub in the ‘they all started speaking Welsh as soon as I walked in’ fable, it seems that John Webb has a huge chip on his shoulder. Maybe that’s at the root of many of the problems he’s encountered with Welsh speakers…

  13. I believe this article is somewhat inaccurate, although not all areas are represented by this myth and there are many instances were there are welcoming attitudes towards English speakers, I believe there are many areas which are not. Bod yn Cymraeg fy hyn dwi wedi gweld llawer o wahanol agweddau o’r sefyllfa yma. As many of the people have posted on the comments, in many areas there is a negative perception and attitudes in the community towards English natives, speakers and tourists. Although I can understand the erosion of the Welsh language and culture from the British state and perhaps explains some of the attitudes, I do not understand some areas complete abject hostility towards the English. In some isolated areas, rural countryside and certain areas there is nothing but discrimination and intolerance. I have seen and heard this first hand, being a fluent Welshman who does not have any accent and an English father, contrary to what this article suggests it is not Englishmen playing the victim or having a paranormal sense, such attitudes towards English, foreigners or anyone not native are prominent in many areas. I do believe there should be more respect shown to Welsh language and culture from the British government, media and people, however I do believe in turn there should be tolerance towards normal people coming into our country who cannot speak the language.

  14. I’m going to have to disagree, having lived in Wales for 8 years, (and starting to learn the language) I have noticed on many occasions; like when somebody new starts at work or school, I have noticed, from being the mutual bystander on many occasions, hearing the Welsh speakers deliberately switching languages to talk about the newcomer. I’ve also had experiences in which I’ve said “Dwi’n methu siarad Cymraeg” and been told that they can’t be bothered to speak english just for me, regardless of the fact I’d made the effort to tell them in Welsh.,

    • Whilst I don’t dispute that you may have been told that Welsh speakers “can’t be bothered to speak English just for you”, from my own experience this must be a *very* rare event – Welsh speakers are generally very quick to change to English – even if just one amongst a large group doesn’t speak Welsh.
      Also, you must surely be aware of the hint of irony in your statement that the Welsh speakers couldn’t be “bothered” to speak English to accommodate you; the fact that you couldn’t be “bothered” to learn Welsh in 8 years here surely smacks of double standards?!

  15. This happened to me last week:

    Her: “I know you’re passionate about the Welsh Language Alun, but it annoys me when people switch into Welsh when I walk into shops. Its so rude.”

    Me: “Where did this happen Diane ?”

    Her: “In Pontcanna”

    Me: “Where in Pontcanna?”

    Her: ” You know that shop on that street next to the Indian Curry House and the health food shop. Walked in and they all started speaking Welsh”.

    Me: ” That’s because its a Welsh language book shop Diane”.

  16. In my experience most Welsh speakers have been very understanding to my rubbish attempts at speaking Welsh (I’ve moved to North Wales 2 years ago for university from London). It’s a really hard language to learn but I’ve found even saying a few phrases have gone a long way. Unfortunately I too have had bad experiences that have really made me think twice about the Welsh language and culture. I was told I was taking the university place of a Welsh girl and that they shouldn’t be letting foreigners like me in instead. I have also had when people have refused to speak to me as I cannot confidently speak Welsh, though do understand the gist of a conversation. I know these are isolated experiences and the vast majority of my time spent in Wales has been enjoyable. However these instances and the purposeful divide some make between Welsh speakers and non have made me see Wales in a very different and not so appealing light.

  17. There is a very strange little Englander response to any foreign language. And it’s along the lines of “you all speak English so why speak Welsh?”
    And then set a citizen test for immigrants coming into Britain!!
    In general, most English people speak one language, and make little or no effort to try and speak the native tongue, be it in Wales or France or Spain or anywhere really.
    Maybe a superiority complex describes this attitude, Welsh language and culture is treated as a bit of a joke.

  18. So basically, as with all dealings with other people, some have had good experiences, some bad. As a whole my hope is that those experiences are good ones.

    Its like all issues e.g. Racism or sexism. No one endorses it, no one wants to see it but a small minority still do it. As a Welshman I can only apologise on their behalf, and encourage you to try another group of people!

  19. Actually, I have found this article to be false. Not all the time, but some of the time. In fact, in pubs Welsh speakers are indeed welcoming and it is all a myth. However, I am Welsh, but I don’t speak the language fluently. I came to a welsh university and put in the same halls as all the other welsh speakers. They knew that I couldn’t speak the language very well and so spoke welsh more prominently when I was around. Instead of encouraging me to learn the language so I could join in, it discouraged me because I didn’t want to be part of the unfriendly community.

    • must be an English thing. I hear Polish and Latvian spoken everywhere in my home town it really grates on me. It makes me turn nasty and feel a foreigner in my own land. I find myself making racist comments, and I feel rotten afterwards.

    • ” They knew that I couldn’t speak the language very well and so spoke welsh more prominently when I was around. Instead of encouraging me to learn the language so I could join in, it discouraged me”
      How does one speak welsh more prominently? Loudly/ faster/more SLOWLY AND better ENUNCIATED with a north wales accent or south?…. I would assume that they were helping and encouraging you to practice your welsh? You were in a welsh language hall of residence, being a language learner have you not heard of the benefits of immersion? Anyway I agree with the author’s comments on the “walked into the bar myth”, seems that a lot of you miss the point of the argument

      • No, no. I meant that they spoke welsh around me so that I would be discludedfrom conversations, not to help my welsh or include me in their conversation. In short, welsh speakers tend to ignore other non-welsh speakers, like myself, and are usually quite rude about it. In my experience anyway. And I always tend to get picked on and labelled Not a proper Welshie due to my lack of knowledge on the language. Now that’s not a nice, welcoming community, is it?

      • Rhieverall, if you can’t speak the language of the country that’s entirely your problem, why should the natives go out of their way to accommodate you? It’s not as if the English are famous for this, they just shout louder in English wherever they are. Get used to it, the Empire is history.

  20. Thank you for all the comments (I am the author of the piece).

    First of all, I note that even the responses that take issue with the article (including John Webb’s) don’t actually address the particular myth in question, namely that everyone in a pub immediately switches from English to Welsh en masse as soon as an outsider enters. That specific story is implausible and incoherent for the reasons I’ve given above, and I made a point of focusing on it precisely because it sets out to undermine the idea of Welsh as a normal community language.

    The disagreeing commenters have instead referred to alleged bad experiences more generally, which is a separate matter. Nowhere have I denied that rude Welsh-speakers exist. It would be strange if there weren’t any, given that impolite or obnoxious people exist in all segments of society. Welsh-speaking Wales is no different, nor could we expect it to be so.

    The anecdotes about bad-mannered Welsh-speakers are revealing in themselves, to be honest, but not in the way you might think. I cringe when I hear such stories, because they reflect badly on everyone who speaks Welsh. But that’s the point: why on earth should they reflect on all of us? I’ve met unpleasant English-speakers at times but it’s never occurred to me to extrapolate from that and suggest that unpleasantness is somehow an English trait. The reason for this is obvious: it would be a really weird and unreasonable thing to do. In the same way, there should be absolutely no reason for me to wince with embarrassment when I hear of somebody having an uncomfortable experience with a Welsh-speaker. I can’t help myself, however, because I’ve been conditioned by the wider society to accept that minorities (like Welsh-speakers) must satisfy higher standards. In our case, the actions of a small few must indeed reflect on all of us. The lucky English-speaking majority need not worry about a handful of impertinent exceptions letting the entire side down and resulting in existential peril to the group itself.

    To answer some of John Webb’s comments directly, I’ve been going “incognito” with an English person in Gwynedd almost every day for a good few years now. As I said in the article, my wife is from England. We live in Caernarfon, a stronghold of the language, but since she’s not fluent we speak to each other in English. She’s never had any experiences like the ones you mention. Indeed she has said that, if anything, Welsh-speakers are sometimes too ready to switch to English in her presence, even if the conversation does not directly involve her. For what it’s worth, she does understand a bit (perhaps a little more than she sometimes lets on!), so when we’re out with friends we end up with a situation like what I described above: the conversation will switch seamlessly from Welsh to English and back again, depending on whether or not anyone is speaking directly to my wife. She can follow the gist of the Welsh bits, and anything she doesn’t catch can be translated. I imagine that this sort of scenario is far more common around the world than monolingual English-speakers realise. In fact, I would propose that there is something rather cosmopolitan about it. Yet it is Welsh-speakers who are so often portrayed as insular and narrow-minded.

    I have spent many (many many) hours in several of Gwynedd’s drinking establishments, and I have genuinely never so much as heard a hint of the sort of thing that you describe (although admittedly my comprehension prowess start to diminish after my eighth Guinness). Naturally, I must accept that somebody who speaks Welsh is occasionally insulting towards somebody from England; it would be rather astonishing if it never happened. I tend to be on the look-out for such things, precisely because I’m so aware that as a group we need to be collectively near-perfect in order to avoid bad press, but if it occurs it never seems to be when I’m around.

    Rude, occasionally? Yeah I guess, unfortunately. Just like every other demographic group. But the thing about a tourist entering a pub where everyone immediately stops speaking English and turns to Welsh out of sheer small-mindedness? I honestly and sincerely do not and cannot believe that it has ever happened. Ever. And that, specifically, is what the piece was about.

    • I would hesitate to actually call anybody a liar. I am sure as Dylan says there are rude poeple in all walks of life. Just for the sake of balance though I would like to relate our (my wife and I) experience. When we were leaving Wales to return to Lancashire to look after my Mum we had a small farewell party at our house. We all ended up sat in the kitchen and we were the only non welsh speakers as far as I recall. Occasionally the conversation would drift into Welsh whereupon somebody would realise what had happened, apologise profusely and all would go back to speaking English.

    • Dylan – you’re about spot on there mate – very balanced article. Yes, people can be rude everywhere, and small communities can come across as a bit insular and reserved all over the UK, but the group switch to Welsh when someone speaking Saesneg walks in – nah – I don’t believe it. FWIW – my pathetic attempts to say something in Welsh in Ceredigion have always been treated kindly, without exception.

  21. As someone who moved to Wales 17 years ago (and to Blaenau Ffestiniog to start with, arguably the most Welsh of Welsh villages), I can honestly say that I have never experienced the discrimination towards me for being English that some of you speak about.

    And I have been told that I do have a very ‘posh’ obvious English accent! At first it was intimidating walking into a pub or other social setting where the majority of the people were speaking another, at the time, completely incomprehensible language.

    But over time, and with the help of a ten week fast track Welsh course (and of course lots of practice over a bevvie with Welsh people in pubs), I now speak the language fluently.

    And, being of ethnic Malaysian origin, I can honestly say that in my lifetime have received much more discrimination from English people for not being English in England than from Welsh people for not being Welsh in Wales.

    In example, at my job as a nurse I had to go and collect an elderly lady from A&E to await her transport home. I looked at the info sheet, her name was Myfanwy. I introduced myself in Welsh, explained where i was taking her, and promised her a nice cup of tea and a sandwich. She replied very loudly saying “I don’t speak Chinese! Why is this nurse speaking Chinese to me? Speak English!”. The man opposite, a Welsh speaker, could not stop laughing. Unfortunately he was having a rather severe nose bleed at the time and dislodged his nasal packs. I assisted him before wheeling Myfanwy away to await her transport.

    I did not get offended by this incident. It is really funny actually and I like telling it. I really do think that mono lingual people do not appreciate that a Welsh is not just a language. It’s more integral than that. It’s about identity and culture. I think that if you chose to come and live in Wales you really should make the effort to learn the language. You’re missing out on so much if you don’t.

  22. I am English and started learning Welsh when I was in the Army. I have come to love the language and culture so much so that I have frequently been visiting Bala ( nearest major Welsh speaking town to me) over the past years. I often go in the local pub for a pint and the majority of the locals converse in English when English monoglot speakers are around ( especially young people). When I speak Welsh there I am made to feel very welcome and consequently many of the locals will only speak to me in Welsh. I have never ever experienced what is mentioned above and i speak and understand Welsh perfectly.
    I never apologise to anyone for speaking Welsh anymore than I would for speaking English.. I’m glad i took the plunge in learning Welsh, it makes me feel more proud to be British than anything I ever did before.

  23. Only just discovered your comment (the whole site in fact) and very surprised to see that no-one has yet (24.7.2014) commented to say Well done, you’re a credit to your your nation (England) and an example. Well, that’s what I think, and it makes a very refreshing change.

  24. I was born and brought up in Anglesey in the 50’s to a Welsh mother and a Slovene father so I spoke Welsh, Slovenian and English practically from birth. English was our common language though it belonged to none of us and the switching from one language to another was constant even in mid sentences. If my father left the room my mother and I would carry on in Welsh and return to English as soon as my father walked back in and the same happened between my father and myself. I never heard the slightest derogatory comment all the years I lived there. On the contrary, many of my school mates would try to get me to go shopping with them to Bangor as their English was very poor and in many shops in that town you couldn’t find a Welsh speaking person. The only time I ever heard a racist remark made towards us was once in Manchester. My parents and I had gone here for a few days and had to stay at a hotel. As we signed in with our, obvious, Slovenian surname we were considered Slovenian by the hotel staff. One morning my mother and I were at breakfast and talking in Welsh when I overheard an English couple sitting at a table next to us comment “These F$%&/ Polacs are invading us” Rude people are just that. Not rude Welsh nor rude English just rude people. I have traveled quite a lot in my life and I have found in general that people treat you in the same way you treat them.

    • There’s a sort of poetic justice in the phrase “These F$%&/ Polacs are invading us”, spoken by an Englishman. The English have invaded just about every country they could put their hands on, and when the locals kick them out, they proclaim that they “gave freedom” to that country…
      The walked-into-the-bar myth is just another remnant of the colonial mentality. It presupposes that the natives should not be allowed to speak their own language in their own country.

  25. as a Welshman who’s family is from Aberystwyth and also the very top of the Rhondda valleys i have an extremely thick welsh accent that people struggle to understand anywhere remotely east (even Cardiff or Newport on occasion) even when I’m speaking English Ive had many slurs about my nationality (ones i return with vehemence when they occur) Ive spent a lot of time in the west of wales with my fiancee who is a fluent welsh speaker (i myself am not completely fluent, but i can speak welsh and a lot of welsh words and phrases creep into my speech when i speak English) so i believe i can say that the ridiculous myth that a whole group of people will immediately perceive you as an outsider and ostracize you by speaking about you in another language is ridiculous, the most likely thing i can think that is happening is that they were either speaking welsh before you entered or they were doing what many people do in wales which is switch between English and Welsh for words phrases or complete sentences, or again speaking in accents that you had trouble understanding. I’m not saying there isn’t anti English sentiment in wales, there is, i have even partook. but there is also anti English sentiment in all the Celtic regions, anti Celtic sentiment throughout England, anti french sentiment in England, its something that occurs in people, not a particular region, Ive had English people on holidays mock the language and accent and make jokes in bad taste but Ive also had people tell me i have a beautiful accent, ask me to translate what i said in welsh for them or ask me very sincere questions about my countries culture and language. there are bad and good in all races regions religions and countries, so i believe its unfair to dismiss individual incidents and yet i think its unfair to judge an entire country with certain negative incidents. that being said its our history and language and if we want to speak it then there should be no reason we shouldn’t, we are few, but we are strong. Ry’n ni yma o hyd,
    Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth.

  26. It may happen and it may not. Wales is a friendly country and the English are welcome as are the Welsh welcome in England for we are all British!

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